Today is 4th of May. I am home after the Russian league getting the necessary rest before the Olympiad in Turin and trying to think about my sporting calendar for the rest of this year.
And here the questions start coming.
Wasn’t it announced by FIDE that on 24th of March they would open the bids and reveal all the details about the forthcoming candidate matches? Browsing on the FIDE website I found the document dated 5th of January and realized that I wasn’t dreaming. Of course, it has already happened in the past that FIDE would suddenly turn to silence when passing the deadline of the important announcement, but this time FIDE definitely can’t be called inactive during April 2006.
On 14th of April 2006 they announced the match Kramnik-Topalov instead.
There are many thoughts and doubts coming up with this outrageous fact, here I will just try to give a short summary:
Officially the Kramnik-Topalov match goes under the 'new 2700 rule' that basically says that any strong player can bring the sponsor and then play the World Champion in the match for the title. But when the sponsor happens to be the FIDE president himself (at least it can be deducted from the official announcement) and he favors a particular player who happens to be his countryman, I see a clear abuse of this new rule.
The rule itself is also outrageous. A player having access to big money can simply buy the right to play for the title, and in case of defeat he in fact secures the title of the Vice-Champion. The fair sporting competition rests in peace. When I tried to explain it to Georgios Makropoulos in the internal correspondence (for some strange reason I happen to be a member of ‘Fide title and ratings committee') in January this year his answer was that this new rule doesn’t disturb other players because FIDE guarantees to conclude the Candidates’ cycle in time and make the eight players World Championship in 2007. I think now one can see how untrue he was especially taking into account that according to circulating rumours (or at least my interpretation of the article in Russian at the press conference in Moscow) the loser of the Kramnik-Topalov match might become the ninth player in that round robin, thus getting (especially if the loser is Kramnik) new outrageous sporting and financial privileges.
Many journalists interpret the Kramnik-Topalov match as the ‘title unification’ match that concludes the ‘Prague agreements’ of 2002. But there are strong objections against this:
Kramnik didn’t become the official World Champion in 2000, we all know how he ‘qualified’ for that match and in fact, for history's sake he has never been the World Champion until now.
The Prague agreements were refused to be signed by such outstanding players as Anand and Grischuk among others including yours truly. It was already seen in 2002 that the ‘Prague schism’ damages chess as sport, funnily two current contenders for the FIDE presidency have an absolutely equal share of the responsibility for this schism.
Kramnik and his part-time agent Joel Lautier made statements that ‘Prague was dead’ in 2004. And in fact it was a true statement, players were not supposed in 2002 to wait on forever.
Kramnik was offered a unique chance to put his title on a fair contest in San Luis 2005 (at that time he still qualified by rating for the World Championship) but he refused it. Isn’t it more logical for Topalov to play the match against Anand who finished second in San Luis?
Right now Kramnik is basically a titleless number nine player, with a relatively modest (although yours truly is, of course, happy to have achieved something similar after the latest events) rating of 2729. He has also been quite inactive lately (for example he doesn’t even appear in ACP tour standings even though he played in two tournaments that were calculated). And although everyone wishes him a successful recovery, it is also clear that he has yet to prove his level after the announced illness. To get in these circumstances the rights and benefits of number two or even one would not happen in any other serious sport. Why did it happen in our beloved one?
The answer comes from the current state of Russian politics. It is no secret that the Russian Chess Federation president Alexander Zhukov (who is also responsible for the state budget in the Russian government) made a condition to Ilyumzhinov that the latter would have to give Kramnik this match if he wants to stay as the FIDE president. As by coincidence Bulgaria still enjoys good relations with Russia, and the Bulgarian president sometimes travels to Moscow, for example to attend the awarding of the ‘Oscar’ to Topalov, the match is becoming a closed political affair. I think even in the worst Soviet times the rights of the World's best players from other countries weren’t that damaged. Right now they have to be content to play in tournaments and leagues for amounts (calculating per game) that are 30-50 times lower then Topalov and Kramnik in their match, while the World rankings shouldn’t suggest such a difference from a sporting/social point of view.
I would like to stress that I perfectly respect Topalov and Kramnik as outstanding players and I know they will probably play very interesting games. But what else can be expected if their analytical teams will also include players who might even play better chess themselves, such as Svidler and Bareev, demonstrated in the last Russian Championship? Something to think about from the ethical point of view.
Of course, there are many more doubts about the current state of the FIDE politics and decisions they make. If I had a vote I would probably give one for Bessel Kok in the forthcoming elections although it is also clear that the change must be much bigger than one of the Presidential team. There must be a general change of the attitude towards principles of democratic sport and respect towards the sportsmen. Only then chess can make a real (and in fact a giant one!) step forward.
Addendum: FIDE has informed us that the reason GM Alexey Shirov is a member of the FIDE titles and ratings Committee, as stated in his letter above, is because of a request of the ACP, during the FIDE Congress in Dresden, to include some ACP representatives in the FIDE Committees and Commissions.
The following interview (excerpts) appeared on Chess Fidelity, the web site of the Kirsan Campaign for presidency of FIDE.
Q: We have Ilyumzhinov’s announcement that the contracts for the match Topalov-Kramnik have been signed.
Topalov: The announcement was not a surprise for me. We were waiting for the date of the match to be published. So now that it happened we take rest. I am glad that this match will in fact take place.
Q: As the World Champion you support FIDE and personally President Ilyumzhinov. Would you change your attitude if after the FIDE Congress another person would take the helm of the World Chess Federation?
Topalov: I would not. Hundred years ago there was no such organization and the World Champion took himself the decisions regarding whom to play with and when to play. I believe that FIDE must be a regulatory authority. The title of World Champion belongs to FIDE and a Champion bears this Title for the specified period of time. The Champion should assist FIDE in every way. I personally like Ilyumzhinov because he holds on to the sport principle that a champion shall practically prove that he is the best; and Kirsan has always tried to bring this principle in chess. I myself genuinely believe in this principle. Irrespective of the results of the election I would be assisting FIDE. However I am convinced that Kirsan Ilyumzhinov will win it, even though for the first time over long he has serious competitors.
Q: How about one million dollars, which the champion will be paid for the match?
Topalov: I did not go into the details of my contract. You had better ask my manager Silvio Danailov whom I completely trust in such matters. We have been working together for 15 years and if he says something then it really should be done. As far as the million dollars for the champion is concerned… It automatically obliges a champion to play the match. If the prize money is less than this a champion can choose. I think it will be the underlying principle for the next championship match. It was not stipulated for me personally. One million dollars is the means to make a champion play in a match. But I would not refuse anyway, I met FIDE wishes.
Q: Do you think the title of World Champion will lose some of its value if the lost party (Topalov or Kramnik) will not be able to struggle for the highest title till 2009?
Topalov: The reason of the current exclusive situation is that the championship system is changing. Of course the number of the participants in the match-tournament could have been changed. But the decision is taken by FIDE and not me.
Q: Has the title of the World Champion provided additional privileges or imposed additional obligations?
Topalov: My remuneration for participation in tournaments has risen. I do not think that I have additional privileges due to this title. If there were not the match with Kramnik, than already in 2007 I would participate in the World Championship Tournament on the same common basis as the other participants. But what I really acquired are additional obligations.
Q: Imagine you had the absolute authority as a Champion Dictator, what would you reform in chess?
Topalov: The primary target is to achieve and provide financial backing for chess. The rest is of secondary importance.
Q: What do you think about the “Sofia Rule” saying that competitors are not allowed to propose a draw?
Topalov: I approve of this idea! This will only do good for all professional tournaments. If people are paid for short dull drawn games, this only do harm to organizers. They feel themselves deceived. There should be some system or mean to prevent it.